I come from over achieving stock.
My eldest sister placed first in the province when she matriculated.. And is now a Public Health specialist. Two more sisters also placed within the top 20 of the province when they matriculated. Three of my siblings have PhDs, five of them have taught at tertiary level, three of them are health professionals, ALL of them are university educated. This should give you a clear picture of the standard to which I was raised.
I, however, am the anomaly in our family. I wasn’t as serious about school as my sisters were, I didn’t have a plan for my life as they did, nor the work ethic and patience to see the process through. My family had a time of it navigating me through my teens. I was lazy for chores, unruly and messy for a girl. I did just enough at school to make sure my grades were respectable, but rarely worked to the fullest of my potential. “You can do better” was the soundtrack to my childhood.
I’m happy to say, I came into my own eventually. And I’m grateful for the way I was raised. My family instilled in me the importance of work ethic, to always deliver your best, no matter how small the task. However, if ever I am to be blessed one day with children of my own, the one thing I would do differently is how I teach them to deal with failure.
A recent fear I have had to acknowledge to myself is the fear of failing. It’s a reasonable one, I suppose, and not uncommon… But for me, the thought of failing has given me such anxiety, it’s prevented me from trying many things. Failure was treated very severely in our house (in anything, but especially where academics and behaviour were concerned).
As a child, the fear you carry is for the consequences of failing (beatings, being grounded, removal of privileges, etc.) – and as an adult, that changes to the fear of being judged.
During my final year of study, I spent 6 months at my old high school, job shadowing an educator. After the first few weeks he allowed me to help his students, and there was one who just drove his teachers bonkers. He was failing at this particular subject, and his teacher refused to spend more time helping him because he was quite playful. It was perhaps easier for me to have a bit more patience with him, but it paid off. He went on to make a career in the very subject he was failing.
I’m not taking credit for his success at all. But I will take a little credit for helping him to recognize his ability and to realise that failure is indeed the first attempt in learning.
I started off my career in the classroom (before moving into the office). My first contact for the year with my students always started with a speech that included the following, “There is no such thing as a stupid question. Ask when you do not know. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, they help you arrive at the right answer”. That last bit, I’ve found, is what makes or breaks a child… And that kind of brokenness can endure well into adulthood.
Failing is a part of learning, it’s part of success, it’s a part of life. Every person should go through life with room to make mistakes and fail…and with the ability to forgive themselves when they do.
Working in schools has been a real education for me and my whole journey has highlighted many of my own childhood experiences and presented me with many opportunities to deal with people’s (and my own) failure differently.
I’d like to think I’ve gotten better in dealing with the failings of others. I hope to one day be gentler in dealing with my own.